Shooting is a deceptively complicated act. While the fundamental idea of putting an orange ball through a white net is universal, the methods players use to do so vary wildly. Take Stephen Curry and Dirk Nowitzki. Their extreme stylistic contrasts spring out of the nine-inch height difference between them, yet they both fit comfortably under the “greatest shooters ever” umbrella.
This week, CBS Sports will be exploring shooting in all of its forms in an effort to trace its evolution as the single most important skill in all of basketball. Today, we begin with the age-old question of who did it best. We weighed skill, numbers and historical context in order to land on the 15 greatest shooters in NBA history.
1. Stephen Curry
This is not even a debate. Curry is the sixth-most accurate 3-point shooter in league history at over 43 percent for his career, which is just a ridiculous number when you consider the volume and difficulty of his shots.
And Curry isn’t just a 3-point shooter. He’ll kill you from mid-range, with floaters and runners, off the dribble and off the catch, and he’s one of the best off-ball movers to ever play. He has every shot in the bag.
Quite simply, Curry has completely reshaped the way the game is played and redefined the standard of truly great shooting. His ability to shoot off the dribble, with easy range to 30-plus feet, has warped floor-spacing and detonated defensive strategies beyond anything anyone would’ve recognized before he came around.
For my money, Curry’s 2015-16 unanimous MVP season in which he hit 402 3-pointers at a 45-percent clip has never been, and might well never be, topped. — Brad Botkin
2. Klay Thompson
When former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Curry and Thompson were the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, people laughed at him. Turns out, he was actually being conservative. They’re the two best shooters ever, period.
Thompson owns the record for most 3-pointers made in a single game with 14. He once needed just 29 minutes and 11 dribbles to score 60 points. Curry might be the better, more versatile shooter, but nobody is more flammable than Thompson. When he gets hot, the net is getting burned down. Quickly.
It would be interesting to see how Thompson would fare without a shooter like Curry alongside him. If he was a No. 1 option with an entire offense running through him, and having to deal with the defensive attention that comes with that, he might have numbers closer to a guy like Reggie Miller, who was surprisingly just a 39 percent career 3-point shooter. Thompson, on the other hand, is just under 42 percent from three for his career, the 14th-best mark in history. — Brad Botkin
3. Ray Allen
Ray Allen is history’s greatest endorsement for routine. The infamously meticulous Allen maintained the same pregame regimen for his entire career. Before each contest, he’d take approximately 300 shots all across the court and in varying degrees of motion. As chaotic as his legendary game-tying 3-pointer at the end of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals may have appeared, for Allen, it was a simple matter of muscle memory. He had been in that position thousands of times before. Why should it matter that this one happened to come with a championship on the line?
That steadiness was evident in his numbers. Not once in his career did he shoot below 35.6 percent from behind the arc. Larry Bird and Reggie Miller, below Allen on our list, combined to do so eight times. Such consistency is unparalleled among shooters that made their name prior to this past decade’s boom. On a night-to-night basis, few players have ever been as dependable as Allen, and it all started with his technically flawless and painstakingly rehearsed shot. — Sam Quinn
4. Larry Bird
Had Larry Bird played in an era as 3-point friendly as today, he might well have topped this entire list. He was so good that he once scored 47 points in a game using only his left-hand, declaring that the Portland Trail Blazers weren’t worthy of his dominant side by saying “I’m saving my right hand for the Lakers.” After winning the NBA’s first two 3-point contests, he walked into the locker room before his third and asked his fellow contestants “who’s coming in second?” He proceeded to win the event while wearing his warm-up jacket.
And he did all of that after injuring his finger in a softball game the summer before his rookie year. As he told Jackie MacMullan for her book, “When the Game Was Ours,” he “never could shoot as well again.” The fourth-best shooter in NBA history was the weakened version of Bird.
Bird was a lethal shooter from practically anywhere on the floor. He led the NBA in free-throw percentage four times, topped 40 percent from behind the arc six times and is one of only eight members of the vaunted 50-40-90 club, as he made 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 90 percent of his free throws during both the 1986-87 season and the 1987-88 season. Even among his multitude of transcendent skills, Bird’s shooting stands out as the best part of his game. — Sam Quinn
5. Reggie Miller
There was a point in time where Miller was widely considered to be the greatest shooter of all-time. Before Allen came along, Miller was the NBA’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers, as he connected on 2,560 shots from long distance over the course of his career. He currently sits second behind Allen (2,973), though he is likely to be passed by Curry (2,285) in the near future (he has already been passed by Curry in the GOAT shooter conversation).
Nonetheless, Miller was the most feared shooter in the league during his day, as entire defensive schemes were dedicated to limiting his long-range production; something that is common in today’s NBA but wasn’t so common during the 1990s. In many ways, Miller was ahead of his time, and if he had played in today’s version of the league where such a heavy emphasis is placed on shooting, his numbers would have been gaudier than they already are. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
6. Kyle Korver
If we are talking purely about the act of shooting of a basketball, Korver deserves to be higher on this list. Just five years ago, he had perhaps the best shooting season in history, non-Curry division, with a 69.9 true shooting percentage and a 49.2 percent 3-point percentage. Korver is not the kind of player you ask to get a bucket in isolation, but at his peak, you could build an elite offense around the threat of him shooting. Mike Budenholzer even realized the Hawks could use him as a creator of sorts when defenses panicked at the sight of him coming off screens and DHOs.
Korver is 39, and even now he is a 41.5 percent 3-point shooter, right in line with his career mark of 42.9 percent, while launching 8.9 3s per 36 minutes, the second-highest volume of his career. This is possible because, over the last 12 years, he has become somewhat of a sports scientist, studying his movement patterns and tweaking his shot accordingly. His consistency and longevity are extraordinary. — James Herbert
7. Steve Nash
Nash’s only real flaw as a shooter was that he didn’t shoot enough. This is a player who made 42.8 percent of his career 3s but never attempted even five of them per 36 minutes. This season, Thaddeus Young, Dorian-Finney Smith and Gorgui Dieng average five attempted 3s per 36 minutes.
In recent years, Nash has repeatedly said he regrets not being more selfish. His personality favored creating for others, and the league wasn’t particularly enlightened about 3-point shooting. But while a version of Nash that launched off-the-dribble 3s with no conscience will have to remain a fantasy, the version we got was phenomenal in its own right. Nash’s 90.4 percent mark from the line is tied with Mark Price for second all-time, just behind Curry, and the balance and technique he had on his pull-ups and floaters should be studied today. Being a threat to score at all times enhanced his passing wizardry, which fueled an entire decade of elite offense: From 2000-01 to 2009-10, Nash’s Mavs and Suns finished first in offense six times, second three times and fourth once. — James Herbert
8. Kevin Durant
One could make the case for Durant based on efficiency alone: 38.1 percent from deep, 88.3 percent from the line, one of the most accurate midrange shooters who have ever lived. But no one with similar stats is about 7 feet tall with the ballhandling skills to create a shot at any time and a release so quick and high that defenders are hopeless to affect it.
Opponents feared everybody we’ve ranked here finding a way to get open, especially in big moments. But how many players are capable of grabbing a rebound, galloping down the court and smoothly stepping into a 3 over LeBron James on the game’s biggest stage? His pull-up jumper is the present-day version of Kareem’s Skyhook — by simply shooting over the top of people, Durant warps the way we think of what’s “open” and what’s not. — James Herbert
9. Dirk Nowitzki
When it comes to shooters who have changed the game, Nowitzki should be high on that list for the pure fact that he was a 7-footer pulling up from beyond the arc without hesitation and knocking them down with ease. During an era where power forwards were still considered post players who rarely stepped out of the post, Nowitzki stretched the floor all the way out to the 3-point line and was a serious threat. He revolutionized the power forward position and started the wave of players 6-10 or taller to pull up from deep. It’s because of his game that you see players like Durant, Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis pulling up from long range.
It’s not just his 3-point shooting either. Nowitzki could fill it up from everywhere on the floor, with career averages of 38 percent from beyond the arc, 47.1 percent from the field and 87.9 percent from the charity stripe. His patented one-legged fadeaway should be considered among one of the most unstoppable shots in NBA history, and is often imitated today by players like Durant and LeBron James. His MVP season in 2006-07 was historic because he became the first power forward to join the 50-40-90 club, which only has eight members in the history of the NBA. — Jasmyn Wimbish
10. Steve Kerr
When all’s said and done, Kerr might be better known for coaching the two greatest shooters of all-time than for his own shooting proficiency as a player, but he’s more than deserving of a top-10 spot himself. Kerr is the all-time NBA leader in career 3-point percentage (45.4), and holds two of the five best single-season 3-point shooting percentages in league history (52.4 in 1994-95 and 51.5 in 1995-96). Yes, those were two of the seasons that the NBA experimented with a shorter 3-point line, but he also shot 50.7 percent in 1989-90, the eighth-best percentage of all time.
Kerr proved his clutch mettle numerous times throughout his career, most memorably by hitting a series-winning 17-footer off of a pass from Michael Jordan to lead the Chicago Bulls to the 1997 NBA title over the Utah Jazz. He didn’t take as many 3s as some of the more modern players on this list, but Kerr has mentioned how taking fewer attempts in limited minutes added to the pressure of each shot, particularly when they came in key postseason situations like so many of his did en route to five NBA titles. — Colin Ward-Henninger
11. JJ Redick
No single player’s career more closely mirrors the growth of the 3-point shot as a whole than JJ Redick’s. Despite displaying elite shooting ability from the moment he was drafted, Redick was, in many ways, an afterthought early in his career. In five-and-a-half years in Orlando, he started only 41 games, and this came on a fairly innovative Magic team that led the NBA in 3-point attempts in each of his final three full seasons there. As Redick aged, though, the NBA aged with him. He became a full-time starter in Los Angeles, and by the time he reached Philadelphia, the market deemed him worthy of a $23 million salary. That he averaged his career-high in scoring at the age of 34 says it all. Redick’s shooting has been a constant. It took years of change on the part of the basketball world to properly appreciate it.
Better late than never. Redick is the NBA’s perpetual motion device, damn near running a marathon every time he steps on the floor in an effort to get open. Even when defenders can keep up, there is no surefire method of stopping Redick as he expertly fades, tilts and otherwise contorts his body to get shots off in the tightest of windows. Most shooters crave order, to catch the ball in the same spots every time and fire it in one fluid motion. That’s great in theory, but what sets Redick apart is how he thrives in the chaos that permeates actual NBA games. That is what makes him one of the most dangerous shooters in history. — Sam Quinn
12. Peja Stojakovic
Stojakovic was a key floor-spacer with the early 2000s Sacramento Kings, one of the most entertaining teams the NBA has seen and perhaps one of the best to never win a title. A 6-10 small forward, Stojakovic shot 40.1 percent from behind the arc for his career and hit 41 percent on nearly six attempts per game during his prime with the Kings. His unorthodox shot delivery where he brought the ball up closer to the left side of his body made contesting the right-handed Stojakovic difficult, particularly given his size.
As evidence of his shooting brilliance, Stojakovic twice led the league in free-throw percentage, making nearly 93 percent in 2003-04 and 2007-08, and shot 89.5 percent from the line for his career, good for fifth all-time. Despite missing out on a title with the Kings, Stojakovic finally got his ring with the 2011 Dallas Mavericks in his last NBA season, knocking down 37.7 percent of his 3s during the postseason run. — Colin Ward-Henninger
13. Mark Price
A tremendous all-around point guard who was ahead of his time in terms of his style of play, Price has the third-best career free-throw percentage in NBA history (90.4), and shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range during his 12-year career. One thing that separated Price from his sweet-shooting contemporaries was his ability to hit jumpers off the dribble, even from 3-point range. When his feet were still, however, you could forget about it. He showcased his shooting supremacy by winning back-to-back 3-point contests in 1993 and 1994.
If Price were just a spot-up shooter he might have made this list anyway, but the fact that he was a complete player with four All-NBA selections, including a first-team in 1993, makes his accomplishments as a shooter even more noteworthy. This wasn’t a guy standing in the corner waiting for wide-open looks — he was creating those looks himself, usually under duress, and knocking them down with proficiency. — Colin Ward-Henninger
14. Chris Mullin
Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a lefty. Though James Harden has made a compelling case behind him, Mullin stands for now as the greatest left-handed shooter in the history of basketball. Of course, given his resume, he likely would’ve made this list no matter which appendage he used to shoot.
Mullin’s early-career 3-point numbers were fairly pedestrian as he relied on the mid-range game that got him through college, but boy, did he make up for lost time later on. Mullin converted on only 32.8 percent of his long-range attempts in his first seven seasons but caught fire in the 1992 Olympics by making just under 54 percent of his shots from behind the arc. He never looked back. In his final nine seasons, he hit over 42 percent of his 3-pointers. Mullin is a classic case of a player born into the wrong era. Had he played with modern spacing and a green light, his numbers would look significantly better. Even in the 1990s, his stroke was pure enough to earn the No. 14 spot on this list. — Sam Quinn
15. Drazen Petrovic
Here’s all you need to know about Drazen Petrovic: he spent only three seasons as a starter in high-level professional basketball (one for Real Madrid and two for the then-New Jersey Nets), yet anecdotally speaking, there are still those who will swear he’s several spots too low on this list. In statistical terms, they might have a point. Petrovic is currently No. 5 on the NBA’s all-time 3-point percentage leaderboard having made 43.74 percent of his attempts. Sitting just behind him at No. 6? Curry.
Few players inspire more hypothetical debates than Petrovic even decades after his 1993 death in a car accident. He played only 29 minutes in the 1990 NBA Finals. Perhaps the Blazers could’ve beaten the Pistons if they’d recognized his talents. His Nets were on the rise with young stars Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, but never accomplished much in the postseason without him. He might have even given the Dream Team a run for its money in 1992 had the Yugoslavian and Croatian national teams not split.
Were it not for that tragic accident in 1993, the consensus surrounding Petrovic is that he would have been among the greatest shooters in NBA history. Even in its wake, he left such an indelible mark on the game of basketball that he could not be denied a spot on this list. — Sam Quinn